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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - There is no doubt that every honorable senator would like to afford all possible postal and telephonic facilities, not only to every district in Australia, whether large or small, but to every individual. But in this, as in other Federal matters, we have to ascertain whether it is a business proposition. How far are we prepared to extend these postal facilities to outlying settlers, whom I sympathize with quite as much as does the mover of the motion, without involving the Department in too great a loss? If we are going to run the Department regardless of cost, and to grant facilities to every district, where is the money to' come from? But if it is intended to run the Department at as small a loss as possible consistently with granting reasonable facilities to people generally, then we are brought face to face with the position which exists to-day. I think that the members of each House of thisParliament could render better service to Australia generally if they would show a little more backbone when, in travelling round the country, they are met with complaints about improper or insufficient postal facilities. They should tell persons who feel themselves aggrieved that under our present system the country cannot afford the additional expenditure. It might be very nice for us if we could meet half-a-dozen or a dozen of our constituents in any isolated place andpromise to do all that we possibly could to get postal facilities for them, but I submit that in the interests of the taxpayers generally our duty is to look at the other side of the question. It might be advisable at times, even at the risk of incurring some displeasure, to say that we could not support a request. I, in common with every member of the Senate, have been approached often on this subject. In travelling through Tasmania a few months ago, I was met frequently with these complaints from half-a-dozen or a dozen, or perhaps twenty, settlers in out. lying places, where it would have cost a good deal to provide the desired facilities. The question I put to them was, " What is likely to be your revenue; can you show the Department that the loss will not be too great?"

Senator Millen - You did not put that question to the people of the country when you gave them penny postage.

Senator O'KEEFE - If the honorable senator was in his place at the time he ought to know that I was one of the few who said that the Senate would make one of the greatest mistakes that have ever been made in this country if it sanctioned penny postage.

Senator Millen - I had forgotten the fact.

Senator O'KEEFE - I accept the explanation of my honorable friend. One is debarred, I suppose, by the Standing Orders from referring to penny postage on this motion.

Senator Millen - What I wish to point out is that it is a fair thing for a country resident to say, "I am contributing to the loss incurred by the introduction of penny postage, but the people generally will not contribute to the cost of running my mail."

Senator O'KEEFE - Quite against my vote Australia is losing about ,£500,000 a year owing to an Act which was passed last session. I regret the fact just as keenly as ever I did, because I think that the right people are not receiving the benefit of that legislation. People residing in outlying districts are far more deserving of consideration than those who have reaped the benefit of penny postage. The complaints which have been made by Senator McColl and others on the ground of the lack of postal facilities in remote districts have only strengthened the feeling to which I gave expression, some time ago, when I said that we had not arrived at a time when we could afford to introduce penny postage, and that it would be a mistake to introduce it. It may be only remotely connected with this question, but it is owing to the big loss of revenue in the Post and Telegraph Department, amounting to about ,£500,000 in the first year during which penny postage has been in force, that we are not now in a position to extend to country people the postal facilities which they richly deserve. Every member of this Parliament will very soon have to face the matter,, and tell his constituents that if the Post and Telegraph Department is to be anything like self-supporting a halt must be called; that we cannot continue to extend postal and telegraphic facilities in the lavish way in which, according to the statement of the Minister, we are now doing. He has shown clearly that the present Government are accountable for a loss of revenue from the Post and Telegraph Department by giving facilities which were never afforded to the people by any previous Administration. I know that, during the first si.x years of the existence of this Parliament, in common with others, I was always trying to secure postal facilities for settlers in remote districts, but we were always in those days met by the Postmaster- General with the statement, " Let me know what the cost of the proposed service is likely to be, and what revenue is likely to be derived from it, and I shall then be able to tell you whether it can be granted or not." Now, however, there is a hard and fast rule laid down, and it is being followed. Under this rule, where a few settlers are found in remote centres, facilities are afforded them, if they are prepared to meet half the loss involved. Under previous Administrations, in such cases the same facilities would be denied the settlers altogether, unless they could guarantee to cover the whole of the loss involved. This is a question which may well be approached in a non-party spirit.

Senator McColl - I did not approach k in any party spirit.

Senator O'KEEFE - I am not saying that the honorable senator did so. I am rather sorry that references have been made to party in connexion with this matter. I should like to say that I think we shall make a mistake in the interests of the general taxpayers if we pass this motion, seeing that the Department is now run at a tremendous loss, because of the extension of postal and telegraphic facilities already given.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

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